Tuesday, September 20, 2011

DVD Review: THE BASEMENT: RETRO ‘80s HORROR COLLECTION

THE BASEMENT
THE 5-FILM RETRO ‘80s HORROR COLLECTION
(3 DVD + VHS SET)

LABEL: Camp Motion Pictures
REGION CODE: 0 NTSC
RATING: Unrated
DURATION: 548 mins
VIDEO: 4x3 Fullframe
AUDIO: English Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo, no subtitles
DIRECTORS: Tim O’Rawe, Gary Cohen, Jon McBride
CAST: Dennis Driscoll, Kathleen Heidinger, David Webber, Scott Corizzi, Traci Mann, Pamela Kramer, John Paul Fedele, Scott Hart, Lisa Cohen, Linda Herman, Jackie Neill, John McBride, Amy Chludzinski, Christopher A. Granger, Richard Marcus, Gene Robbibns, Carrie Lindell, Joseph Salheb, Gary Schwartz, Chick Kaplan, Robin leeds, , Uke, Bart Sumner, William Toddle

When I first unboxed the package from Camp Motion Pictures containing THE BASEMENT VHS/DVD 5-Film Collection I howled with glee at it's contents. C'mon it's not everyday that I get an oversized 3-disc "Big Box" VHS styled boxset of 1980's DIY horror films shot on video, especially one that includes a never-before-released super 8mm horror anthology on not only on DVD but also a VHS - that's right - a red VHS tape of THE BASEMENT is included! Available for the first time on VHS and DVD, THE BASEMENT is the lost 1989 Super 8 anthology feature film directed by Timothy O’Rawe (GHOUL SCHOOL) that smacks of many hours spent watching Amicus horror anthologies and TV's TALES FROM THE DARKSIDE. Here's the disc by disc breakdown of the set beginning with the main feature...


DISC 1:

THE BASEMENT (1989)
In Tim O'Rawe's shot-on-super 8 horror anthology THE BASEMENT four strangers are summoned to a dank basement of an abandoned house by a creepy entity known as The Sentinel. One after another the unwilling participants are forced to witness the heinous deeds they have yet to commit but will damn them for all eternity. This is a very AMICUS-esque anthology with elements of EC Comics morality and TALES FROM THE DARSKIDE styled shenanigans with a crypt-keeper like host that I think any horror fan would be hard-pressed not to appreciate. 

The anthology begins with SWIMMING POOL in which a truly annoying Jersey bitch named Victoria discovers her pool is inhabited by a creature who eats anyone foolish enough to dip a toe in. After shaking off the initial shock that her pool is eating people she does what most of us might - makes a list of people she could do without in this life, invites them over and shoves 'em in where green tentacles emerge from the frothy surface and dispose of the evidence. It's not overly gory segment but this was fantastic fun with a great EC comics twist ending. Great start to the film, fun watery deaths with no gore but great stuff nonetheless.

The next segment is TRICK OR TREAT, a Halloween themed tale featuring a school teacher named Charles who really hates anything having to do with Halloween, especially kids, which is strange 'cuz like I said he's a high school teacher. When he's in the classroom he fantasizes about killing his entire classroom, it's a gloriously gory daydream, too - fun stuff. Halloween night he is visited upon by the ghost of his deceased wife who warns him to change his curmudgeonly ways lest he suffer the same fate as her. He awakens assuming it only to have been a dream and spends the night watching horror films on TV which is strange what with his hate of Halloween isn't it? Regardless he waits for trick or treaters to arrive at his doorstep only to shit on their fun with mean spirited pranks. Not having heeded his wife's warning from beyond the grave he is visited upon by more spirits like a Halloween themed production of A CHRISTMAS CAROL which includes visitation from a demon, witch, mummy and finally Death. This was my favorite segment of the anthology and very much recalled a Tom Savini directed episode of the TV series Tales from the Darkside called "Trick or Treat" as well. I'd be surprised if that were not a direct inspiration for this one. This was definitely the goriest of the vignettes with great make-up effects, fun stuff.

Then onto ZOMBIE MOVIE featuring reanimated corpses taking revenge against a hot-shit director who would dare disparage the name of George A. Romero and crap upon a Fangoria reading horror geeks. A fun tale with a lot of horror references, some great zombie unearthing scenes and a zombie horde on the prowl in the fog. Perhaps my least favorite of the four but still entertaining.

The last segment is HOME SWEET HOME wherein a young man having just inherited money after his father's death purchases a creepy old house formerly owned by a notorious serial killer where torture and  sadistic murder transpired 6 years prior. Strange things start to happen when he spends the night in the house with his friends, which he at first attributes to having drank way too much whisky but it soon becomes clear that there's something decidedly evil going on leading to some sweet EVIL DEAD-style limb severing.

The film was a definite fun time, low-budget shot-on-super 8mm and cheesy. Bad acting and poor post-sync dubbing but Scott Hart's special effects were pretty bad ass and there's some great bloody carnage to be had here. The bits were definitely in the Amicus VAULT OF HORROR style campy-horror with the SOV aesthetic of the classic 80's TV show TALES FROM THE DARKSIDE, great stuff.

Special features for this obscure lost gem include a audio commentary with cinematographer Michael Raso and John Fidele of the Alternative Cinema podcast. it's a fun and informative look back at the making of the film in which we learn that it was shot on the same 8mm camera as THE DEAD NEXT DOOR and that the film was abandoned six months after filming completed due to the film looking too dark to be release commercially on VHS, that is until technology proved otherwise many years later and they were able to "squeeze" an image out of the 8mm film. Its a great listen. There's also a collection of outtakes and deleted scenes that include some a glimpse of the unused creature in the pool (a wise choice) which we never see in the final film and some neat behind-the scenes special effects shots, a local TV news segment about the film featuring director Tim O'Rawe, Michael Rasso and special effects creator Scott Hart who shows off one of the zombie heads from the film. Rounding out the disc are three half hour episodes of the Meadowlands Showcase public access TV show the aired around the same time, a very cool comedy production, plus two Tim O'Rawe short films; one called VENGEANCE which did little for me and cool horror short called SAY NO TO DRUGS featuring Death bloodily ending the lives of drug addicts, which was awesome.

SPECIAL FEATURES:
- Audio Commentary with cinematographer Michael Raso and Assistant Director John Paul Fedele
- Outtakes and Deleted Scenes (6:30)
- News Segment "The Basement" (3:51)
- Meadowland Showcase TV - 3 Episodes: Halloween Takeover, Long is the Night, Long Road to Karaoke (85:24)
- Tim O'Rawe Short Films: SAY NO TO DRUGS (9:50), VENGEANCE (4:03)


As if this unearthed super 8mm anthology gem weren't enough this boxset comes with four late-80's SOV classics including John McBride's CANNIBAL CAMPOUT, Gary Cohen's VIDEO VIOLENCE 1 and 2 plus CAPTIVES - three goofy, blood soaked celebrations of DIY violence and 80's bad taste.

DISC 2:

CAPTIVES (1988) 
This is director Gary Cohen’s follow-up to his popular SOV horror film VIDEO VIOLENCE and was shot prior to VIDEO VIOLENCE 2. The film has a decidedly THE LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT / HOUSE ON THE EDGE OF THE PARK flavor to it as a family is taken hostage by three deranged criminals forcing a woman to fight back and save the lives of her baby and mother-in-law. The film is plays it mostly straight with a few comedic moments, it's a grim home invasion/revenge thriller leading to a shocking revelation about the motivations of the violent invaders. Poorly acted and not very well shot (even my SOV standards) but Cohen was definitely aiming for a down n' dirty exploitation film and he's somewhat successful.

SPECIAL FEATURE: Audio Commentary with moderator Michael Raso, director Gary P. Cohen and Joel Cobeck.

CANNIBAL CAMPOUT (1988)
In John McBride's CANNIBAL CAMPOUT four college kids on a camping trip to the backwoods of New Jersey run afoul of a deranged trio of weirdos who stalk, torture, mutilate and eat the unhappy campers one by one. Taking obvious inspiration from FRIDAY THE 13th and THE HILLS HAVE YES the film is a gore-tastic SOV splatter-classic that's loaded with bad acting and gratuitous amounts of blood, guts and breasts. The highlight for me even more so that the array of cheap gore is the intensely wacky performance from actor Richard Marcus (TREMORS) portraying the leader of the backwoods cannibal clan, it's completely over-the-top, bonkers and pretty sweet in a so bad it's good sorta way. One of the brothers is a reptilian mutant who wears a pilot's visored helmet with a length of oxygen hose attached, it's a great looking get-up and is quite memorable. The kicker of the film is the revelation that the cannibalism is the result of a death bed promise the trio made to their mother on her deathbed to avoid junk food, 'natch. The films is derivative to the nth degree but makes for an entertaining stalk n' slasher as the depraved trio hunt, kill and eat their prey.

SPECIAL FEATURE: Audio Commentary with co-director John McBride.

DISC 3:

VIDEO VIOLENCE...WHEN RENTING IS NOT ENOUGH (1987) 
In Gary Cohen's gore-soaked tribute to mom and pop video stores a young yuppie couple named Steve (Art Neill) and Rachel (Jackie Neill) move from New York City to the 'burbs of New Jersey to get away from the weirdos and open a neighborhood video store. Business is great but Steve is perplexed that the entire community seems addicted to grisly horror films, no one seems to enjoy a good comedy or drama in this town and things get really weird when someone accidentally returns not one of the shop's overdue titles but a video containing a real life snuff film. Despite bringing it to the attention of the sheriff (William Toddle) the investigation doesn't seem to be getting any traction and the reason why will soon become apparent when they start to investigate the strange goings on themselves meeting Eli and Howard, two nutty guys who oversee an underground snuff film empire. This was a darkly comedic flick, fun stuff that was quite bloody with many dismemberments for the gore-hounds. I love the concept and think that if they're gonna be remaking all these 80's classics why not pump some cash into a remake of VIDEO VIOLENCE?

On the commentary track Gary Cohen discusses the genesis of the film going back to a time he worked as a video store clerk and a mother with a young child came in looking for something her daughter to watch. When she brought a VHS of I DISMEMBER MAMA to the counter she asked if there was nudity in the film to which he replied no but that it was rather violent film to which she replied that as long as there's no nudity the violent content was alright. Cohen explains his distaste for violence but his love of all things horror, something I think most horror fans can relate to.The commentary is a fun listen, somewhat informative but mostly a rambunctious group recollection of making the film.

SPECIAL FEATURES:

- Audio Commentary with Gary Cohen, Mark Kwuatek, Art Neil, Paul K., David Christopher and Uke.
- Interview with Video Violence Director Gary Cohen (14:12)

VIDEO VIOLENCE 2: THE EXPLOITATION (1988)  
After helming the grim home invasion thriller CAPTIVES director Gary Cohen returned to the teet of VIDEO VIOLENCE for a campy gore-soaked sequel which finds our snuff film impresarios Howard and Eli now pirating the WGOR cable TV channel to not only showcase their brand of depraved homemade snuff films but to actually host a live variety show wherein victims are dispatched on live television complete with a Paul Shaffer styled band leader. The first film had some humor to it but this one purposefully ramps up the camp (and gore) to entertaining effects with busty naked ladies and fun Herschell Gordon-Lewis styled gore-tastic vingettes.

SPECIAL FEATURES:
- Audio Commentary with Gary Cohen, Mark Kwuatek, Art Neil, Paul K., David Christopher and Uke.

- Camp Motion Picture Vault: CANNIBAL CAMPOUT (1:05), WOODCHIPPER MASSACRE (:52), GHOUL SCHOOL (1:11), VIDEO VIOLENCE (1:26), VIDEO VIOLENCE 2 (1:08)

DVD'S: All the films on the set are presented in 4x3 fullframe and shot on videotape except for THE BASEMENT which was shot on 8mm film. Both formats offer a dingy patina of crappiness to the films as one might expected though I was pleasantly surprised how well both VIDEO VIOLENCE films looked, not great mind you, but when compared to CANNIBAL CAMPOUT, SLEDGEHAMMER and other SOV films of the era it's not too shabby either. THE BASEMENT has been restored by DP Michael Raso and looks decent but it's still grainy and pretty murky. Both VV films have been digitally edited and remasterd by Joel Cobeck and they're probably the best looking films on the set overall. The audio quality is lo-fi from start to finish, particularly THE BASEMENT which was post-dubbed to great comedic effect - 70's Italian films have nothing on 80's SOV cinema in that respect.

VERDICT: Say what you will about the quality (or lack thereof) of these ultra low-budget films but something you can never take away from them is the glorious DIY horror-infused spirit that oozes from every nook and cranny of 'em. These are micro-budgeted love letters to the horror genre made by fans for fans with little to no expectation of profit or distribution. Camp Motion Pictures THE BASEMENT Camp retro 80's Collection is so far the best boxset of 2011 in my opinion. If you love 80's horror, have an affinity for schlock cinema and are nostalgic for the retro VHS aesthetic THIS IS A MUST BUY!!! What a great year for obscure SOV treasures with the surreal slasher SLEDGEHAMMER and the canuxploitation oddity THINGS having finally been brought to DVD and now this "big box" of schlocky 80's VHS awesomeness - I say bring it on!


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